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Brazil's health
minister says no deal was reached on Kaletra's price

Brazil's health
minister says no deal was reached on Kaletra's price

Brazil's new health minister denied reports that an agreement was reached with a U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturer that would avert the country's plan to break an anti-HIV drug patent, despite the ministry's earlier statement that such a deal was finalized. In an interview published Thursday in the Correio Braziliense newspaper, Jose Saraiva Felipe said no accord had been signed with Abbott Laboratories and that negotiations would continue. The press department at the health ministry confirmed Felipe's remarks. Officials at Abbott had no immediate comment.

Health ministry officials on July 8 had announced an agreement with Abbott. That also was Felipe's first day as health minister. "When I took office, I saw that no deal had been sanctioned. There was no document signed by the government," Felipe said in the interview. "I thought that the question was closed and I saw it was still open."

The deal seemed to end a dispute with Abbott that began when Brazil threatened to break the patent on the anti-HIV drug Kaletra if the company did not significantly reduce the price of the medication. While the deal was widely praised for averting a messy trade dispute, both sides claimed victory and no financial terms were disclosed.

Brazil had demanded that Abbott reduce the price of Kaletra to 68 cents per pill from $1.17 and threatened to begin manufacturing its own generic version if no deal was reached. But Felipe told Correio the current proposal only reduces Kaletra's price to 99 cents per pill, with the price continuing to fall to 72 cents in 2010, a reduction he considered insufficient.

"The question of technology transfer is still pending and will have to be rediscussed. The process of a compulsory license is still ongoing and breaking the patent has not been discarded as a final alternative," Felipe said in the interview.

On June 24 then-health minister Humberto Costa gave Abbott 10 working days to agree to deep discounts or see their patent broken. World Trade Organization rules allow countries to issue compulsory licenses and disregard patents in cases of public health emergencies. A compulsory license allows the country to produce a generic version of the drug while paying the patent holder a small royalty.

In the past, Brazil has threatened to break patents on several anti-HIV drugs to negotiate discounts for its AIDS program, which provides free drugs to anyone who needs them. The country, however, has never broken a patent. (AP)

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